Quality of Lean

Is there pride of ownership among the leaders of organizations who practice Lean? Are they proud if their management practice? Have they done something noteworthy, perhaps even remarkable, that most others others have not? Are leaders’ mistakes and errors few and mostly insignificant. Do people like their leaders? Are they proud of them? Would they kiss them?

To have pride in one’s work implies that the work – the practice of Lean management – is well done, which requires leaders to understand the true meaning and intent of Lean. Pride of ownership cannot actually exist if leaders misunderstand Lean as cost cutting, layoffs, and lead-time reduction (or “Continuous Improvement” as three levels: gold, silver, bronze; and “Respect for People” as “a given”).

Take, for example, homeownership. Owning a home can be a challenging and costly endeavor. For some people, the home is purely utilitarian, and so they spend the minimum time, effort, and money maintaining or improving their home. Other people, however, take great pride in home ownership. That means they take pride in maintaining or improving their home and put in the time, effort, and money to do it right. Problems are corrected in precise, not sloppy ways.  Things that need repair or improvement are fixed with an eye towards high quality, not band-aids, to ensure long-lasting improvement. If they need new front door, pride of ownership means they will purchase a high quality door and have it installed by an experienced carpenter. People who take pride in home ownership understand and value the knowledge and accumulated experience of carpenters and other trade people who work on their house. They would rather pay a higher price for good work than accept the low bid and have to endure the pain that comes with sloppy work.

Most leaders have a utilitarian view of management and spend the minimum time, effort, and money to improve their understanding and practice of management. They are lousy Leanowners. The workplace may look good from the outside, but things are a wreck inside. Problems are ignored or, when finally recognized, corrected in sloppy ways.  Things that break are hurriedly fixed with band-aids, ignoring actual causes. If they need a new manager, they hire someone from the outside who looks good on paper and interviews well but does poor quality work. People are paid according to industry averages, the corporate equivalent of low bid.

The quality of Lean in an organization is driven largely by people being allowed by their leaders to think, and not just always being told by their leaders to do things, “nose to the grindstone.” Allowing people to think requires leaders to view employees as having a brain – whether loading dock worker or marketing chief. If leaders understand people to have a brain, then they must be extremely careful not to shut it down by blaming people for problems or creating a threatening work environment. That, by itself, is reason to take pride in one’s work as a leader. If you can do that, you will have done something noteworthy, which, in turn, unlocks the door to achieving something remarkable.

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